Letter: Top tip on reviewing

March 1, 2002

May I express my appreciation for Frank Webster's frankness in reviewing my book After Progress : American Social Reform and European Socialism in the Twentieth Century? (Books, THES , February 1). His comments - "so who will be interested in an ageing don's ruminations, especially those written with such off-putting arrogance?" - are interesting. Should I live long enough to write another book, I'll take them into account. One of the privileges of age, however, is the right to reminisce.

Decades ago, J. K. Galbraith was unequivocal in his instructions to a younger colleague. "Norman," he said, "when reviewing a book, make sure to refer only to the parts you have read."

Webster complains that "with only 20 pages or so devoted to Spain, Germany, Scandinavia and France, there is an inevitable superficiality to the argument".

At least half of the 432 pages refer to these societies.

I wonder what Webster would have written had he read these.

Norman Birnbaum
Georgetown University Law Center
United States

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